Ever read about another author’s success and become frustrated? It doesn’t have to be that way. If we can learn to receive author success stories and testimonies with the right attitude, they can be amazing learning tools that will help us become better writers.

How to Learn From Author Success Stories . .

The Two Sides to Author Success Stories

If you’ve been around an online author community, it is likely you’ve seen one of these author success stories. They’ve become a popular way to share practices and ideas on writing with other authors. These testimonies typically include some combination of the following:

  • I’ve been writing of X amount of time.
  • I write in X ways.
  • This year I decided to change how I was writing and promoting my work.
  • I published X # of books in Y amount of time.
  • I did X, Y, and Z promotions.
  • I spent X amount of money.
  • I saw X number of books sold over Y time period.

To be clear, I love these types of posts. I find them to be encouraging and inspiring. If other people are making it as writers, there is hope that I can too.

At the same time, I understand how they can feel overwhelming. The other side of the hope coin is fear. With the hope that things can be better comes the fear of change, the fear of failure, the fear of lack of resources, and the fear that maybe the voice in our head is correct and we just aren’t good enough.

When we live on the fear side of the coin, testimonies can produce jealousy, discouragement, and resentment.

How to Handle Author Success Stories

To stay on the hope side of the coin, here are two things I don’t do and one thing I try to do:

DON'T give in to envy.

Envy is a feeling of frustration and ill will toward another because of their possessions and advantages, and we can completely lose ourselves in it.

There is no limit to the amount of time we can spend measuring what others have that we do not. There is no return on this investment. As the proverb says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.”

Before you read any author success story, commit to yourself that you will not go hunting for the advantage they have that you do not.

DON'T do the same thing and expect the same results.

The temptation with an author success story is to see it as a formula. “Spend X amount in Y ways on Z promotion and you too will be a full-time author of amazing stories.”

The truth is, lightning doesn’t strike in the same place in the same pattern twice. From testimonies, we can glean the conditions that created the lightning to strike, but we cannot force it to come down from the heavens.

DO ask strategic questions.

The key to learning from the success stories of others is asking the strategic questions. Testimonies are meant to be dissected. Like a chemical reaction in a lab, it is not enough to make the liquid in the beaker bubble. The point of the experiment is to understand why it bubbles so that we can produce a reaction when it is useful.

Dissecting a testimony, therefore, comes down to asking questions. Not envy-filled questions asked in order to prove to ourselves that the giver of the testimony had an unfair advantage, but rather strategic questions that help us understand the chemical reaction that occurred.

5 Questions to Ask of Another Author's Success

While you may need different questions than I do, here are the five questions I ask:

1. What level is the author’s business at?

I listened to an interview in which John Grisham talked about his writing habits and how he has grown to a place where he only needs to write a book or two a year.

While this is something to aspire to, he and I are not on the same playing field. He’s a multi-million dollar a year author. I was excited yesterday to sell three copies of a book in KDP.

Understanding the perspective is the first step to dissecting the author success story.

2. What actually happened?

As authors, we tend to embellish, self-deprecate, and exaggerate. We use fifty words when five will do because we love how the words work together (says that writer who is highly aware he is 700+ words into a post that should likely be 250).

The person giving the testimony may not understand the chemical reaction they produced, so remove the access fluff, stand back from the testimony, and ask, “What happened here?”

3. Have you seen this before?

If something is not repeatable it is not helpful. Once you understand what happened, we need to ask if we have seen it before.

How does it compare to other author success stories? Is it something new or an example that proves existing theories?

4. What strategic lessons should you learn for the future?

Now that we are seeing the testimony through a clear lens, we can ask what lessons we should take away from the success story. These lessons need to be broken into two types: plans for the future and immediate changes.

While the immediate changes to our strategy are more exciting, the plans for the future will often have the biggest impact on our author journey.

5. How can I thank the testimony giver?

It is best for your soul to assume that that the writer giving the testimony is doing so because he/she wants to help. At the end of my process, I always try to ask how I can say thank you for their generosity.

It's a Gift to Learn From Others

Author success stories can be a wonderful tool if we learn how to learn from them. We must stay on the hope side of the coin and reject the fear-side approach that leads to envy. If we can do this, the testimonies of other authors become wonderful gifts for us to unwrap and enjoy.

When you hear of another author's success story, what questions do you ask? Let us know in the comments.


Today, have your character take stock of their successes. What have they achieved? What are they proud of? What do they still want to accomplish?

Don't have a work in progress? Try this writing prompt: Jean just won an award for her art, but her artist friends don't want to hear about it.

Take fifteen minutes to write. When you're done, share your writing in the comments, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

Jeff Elkins is a writer who lives Baltimore with his wife and five kids. If you enjoy his writing, he'd be honored if you would subscribe to his free monthly newsletter. All subscribers receive a free copy of Jeff's urban fantasy novella "The Window Washing Boy."

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